The Tampa Bay Buccaneers rallied in a nail-biter on Sunday afternoon for a 29-25 victory over the Atlanta Falcons. With the win, the Bucs improved to 6-7 for a tie atop the NFC South with Atlanta and New Orleans. The Bucs control their own destiny moving forward on their quest for a third-straight division title. Just a day after the one-year anniversary of Baker Mayfield's improbable game-winning 98-yard drive (Rams), the signal-caller stunned again, this time in a Bucs' jersey. With 31 seconds to go in regulation, down by three points, Mayfield hit Cade Otton on an 11-yard touchdown pass. Receiver Chris Godwin had a pivotal 32-yard catch from third-and-10 to set up the scoring play that secured the win.
"A lot of resilience," said Head Coach Todd Bowles. "We knew it was going to be a tough game. We played them tough the first game and we lost it. We came back this game. Offense came down and had a heck of a drive. We held them out of the end zone at the end. I can't say enough about these guys fighting, the competitiveness they had coming in here. It was a huge win. It's going to be like that every week for the next four weeks."
Run Game Strides
Overall, the Bucs passing attack struggled throughout the battle before finding a rhythm on a series of explosives in the fourth quarter to ignite the comeback bid. Mayfield finished the game with 144 yards and completed 14 of 29 passing attempts for two touchdowns and no interceptions. Chris Godwin led the Buccaneers with five catches for 53 yards, including a 32-yard gain that brought the Bucs' to the Atlanta 15-yard line for a chance to ice the victory. The invigorated ground attack spurred the Bucs' rally. The visiting team produced a season-high 148 yards on the ground at Mercedes-Benz Stadium and averaged 4.0 yards per tote. Rachaad White produced 102 yards on 25 carries and Chase Edmonds put up 40 yards on eight carries. The Falcons predominately utilized a two-high shell coverage throughout the game (two safeties deep, man coverage underneath) to try and limit big plays over the top by Mike Evans. That scheme allowed the Bucs to have success in the run game with a light box. White took advantage, specifically on the 31-yard score.
The Falcons had two safeties deep and Mayfield pitched the ball to White, who quickly shot upfield after cutting inside. The Bucs' offensive line won their one-on-one matchups, notably extended blocks by Tristan Wirfs and Aaron Stinnie, to create the hole as White cut-back. The aerial attack took off during the two-minute drill in the fourth quarter. Tampa Bay overcame both a fourth-and-one (White surged for the first) and third-and-10 (Godwin 32-yard gain down right sideline) to keep the drive alive. Two plays after Godwin's sensational run after catch, Otton took advantage of the Falcons' coverage. Again, the Falcons were using a two-high shell with press coverage on Otton with Richie Grant. The Bucs' second-year tight end utilized a lethal release to gain outside leverage. Grant played outside-in and Otton put himself in prime positioning to make the over-the-shoulder grab in the corner of the end zone to give the Bucs a 29-25 lead.
The Buccaneers held the Falcons to five-of-13 on third down (38.5%) in Sunday's game, marking the sixth-consecutive game that the Buccaneers have held their opponent below 40% on third down – the longest active streak in the NFL. Atlanta did hold a yard advantage of 434-290 over the Buccaneers, however, the run game became a deciding factor in the outcome. The Falcons, who entered the Week 14 matchup ranked sixth in the NFL in rushing, produced 96 yards and 3.7 yards per tote on the ground. In addition, Younghoe Koo missed two field goals from 50 and 52 yards, respectively, which moved the pendulum in the Bucs' favor.
Second-year Zyon McCollum, who played for injured Jamel Dean opposite Carlton Davis III, led the Bucs with nine tackles and posted two critical pass breakups. Antoine Winfield Jr. followed suit with eight combined tackles, a sack and a forced fumble. After Kyle Pitts' 36-yard touchdown, Winfield Jr. came from the blindside of Desmond Ridder on a blitz and got a strip-sack. Ridder hesitated and Winfield Jr. took full advantage. Defensive lineman Patrick O'Connor tackled Kevin Smith after he picked up the loose ball, resulting in a safety and a 12-10 lead for the Bucs. In the first quarter, Carlton Davis III's interception at the eight-yard line set up Mayfield's touchdown run off the fake. Davis snuffed out the bubble screen to Bijan Robinson and undercut the pass, disrupting the catch window. He anticipated, diagnosed and quickly reacted to give the Bucs a 10-3 lead. The defense energized the group on Sunday afternoon, shifting the momentum in a hostile environment. Calijah Kancey and Greg Gaines each tallied a sack in the matchup, collapsing the pocket around Ridder.
Following Otton's touchdown, Christian Izien stopped Drake London at the Bucs' three-yard line as time-expired, securing the win for Tampa Bay.
"Win [Antoine Winfield Jr.] got out, jumped on one," noted Todd Bowles. "We should've had one. K.J. [Britt] dropped one right in his hands and the ball was on the ground twice, and we didn't get them. That would've made it a better game for us. But we came up with some plays, made some things happen and we got the win. They are a tough team, tough team to play down in this place. And for us to win the ball game was good."